05/05/2002 11:00PM

Futures bettors miss War Emblem boat


War Emblem's Kentucky Derby victory was not only a shocker for bettors putting down their money last Saturday, but also for people who bet futures since last August.

War Emblem wasn't listed as an individual betting entry in any of the three pools of Churchill Downs' Future Wager, and didn't even show up on most lists in the fixed-odds futures at Nevada race books.

The Imperial Palace was the only casino to include War Emblem on its list last fall, opening him at 45-1. He failed to attract any bettors. And why should he, since he had only a maiden and allowance win and a seventh place in a minor turf stakes? His odds were raised to 55-1 by year's end.

War Emblem still wasn't on any other future book lists by the time he entered the Grade 2 Illinois Derby on April 6. His sixth-length victory there over Repent earned him a little respect: Park Place added War Emblem to its list, at 75-1. A large bet prompted War Emblem to drop to 60-1.

Even when The Thoroughbred Corp. purchased the colt and turned him over to trainer Bob Baffert, not many people jumped on the bandwagon - Jay Kornegay of the Imperial Palace said his book took only four bets on War Emblem in the last six months and closed him at 25-1 when post positions were drawn last Wednesday.

John Avello of Park Place got a few more bets after the change of ownership and lowered War Emblem to 50-1, 40-1, and finally 30-1 by last Wednesday.

It should be obvious that the books did extremely well with War Emblem's victory. "It was our best future book since Charismatic - who also was a late bloomer in 1999 - and one of the best ever," Avello said.

It was also a great day Saturday for all of Nevada's race books. State-wide parimutuel handle on the Derby was $3,817,053, according to Vinny Magliulo of the Las Vegas Dissemination Company. That's about 5 percent of the estimated all-sources handle from Churchill Downs. Nevada's Derby handle showed a 6 percent increase from last year's $3.5 million.

The entire Churchill card generated $5,376,812 in bets, a 7 percent increase from last year. The total wagered on all tracks Saturday was $8.43 million.

Those figures include only parimutuel wagering. Many race books also booked head-to-head matchups, proposition wagers, and house quinellas.

The winning time of 2:01.13 went "under" the betting line of 2:02.2. Avello said he received action on the under, which was bet as high as -160 (bet $1.60 to win $1). Avello also had a prop on whether not not there would be a Triple Crown winner this year. It opened with the "no" at -850 and was bet all the way up to -1250. War Emblem was available to win the Triple Crown 150-1. Coast Casinos opened War Emblem at 200-1 to win the Triple Crown and he was bet down to 90-1.

On Monday morning, Avello made the odds on War Emblem winning the Triple Crown at +950 (win $9.50 for every $1 wagered). If you don't think War Emblem can win both the Preakness and Belmont, you can lay -1250 (lay $12.50 for every $1 you want to win).

Yaffee and Duffy pick good ponies

With the exception of War Emblem's connections and the few who hit the Derby superfecta, not many people had a more profitable Derby week than Paul Yaffee of Skokie, Ill., and Dennis Duffy of West Bloomfield, N.Y.

Yaffee outlasted a field of 200 to win $40,500 at the Pick the Ponies Invitational at the Las Vegas Hilton last Wednesday through Friday. Duffy was the winner of the 32-player Sting in the Spring at the Reno Hilton last Thursday through Saturday and pocketed $50,000.

"I had a nice lead," Yaffee said, "but I remembered reading a story on the Orleans tourney when the top two people going into the last day got zero points, especially the guy who changed his strategy and it cost him the championship. I didn't want to change my style of play. It was scary because I didn't have any points most of the day Friday. When that longshot [Farda Amiga] won the Kentucky Oaks, it sounded like everyone in the room had her. When the day ended, I was hoping I stayed in the top five."

But Yaffee had enough points for the victory and the $38,000 prize to go with some smaller daily prizes. Michael Sutton of Corona, Calif., finished second (winning $19,000, plus an additional $2,500 for having the highest Day 2 point total).

A different format was used in the Sting in the Spring as the 32 players were paired up in the first round with the 16 winners on Thursday being divided into four groups of four on Friday and the Final Four competing on Saturday. That meant that the champion had to beat only seven people head-to-head to win $50,000.

And that's exactly why Duffy decided to enter the tournament, which had an entry fee of $3,000.

"The last tourney I played was the World Cup of Handicapping in 1996," he said. "I've gotten some minor prizes before, but nothing big. I took a few years off from tournaments to improve my handicapping and I finally feel I belong. I really liked the big prize fund and the format. I felt it played to my strengths. I thought I'd have a better chance than going into a tournament against 200 other people."

The format calls for players to make eight $2 across-the-board wagers at a track of their choice in the first two rounds, and Duffy chose Churchill because of the large fields and the fact there were 10 races while a lot of other tracks only had eight or nine on those days. The Final Four was conducted on the Derby Day card.

Duffy held a 20-cent lead heading into the last race of the contest, the Derby. He used Perfect Drift (who paid $6.80 to show) and won the tournament when Castle Gandolfo, who was used by the only people who could beat him, was off the board.

Craig Kaufman of Southern California finished second in the overall standings and won $20,000.